Thursday, September 30, 2010

Indy 2010: A Successful Conference

by Anita Mae Draper

Taken beside elevator on 11th floor
Last week I flew to Indianapolis, Indiana to attend my 3rd American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference along with 625 other registered attendees. The conference was held downtown in the Hyatt Regency which had a breathtaking atrium with glass-walled elevators. Streaming sunlight gave the whole complex an outdoor aura which began as soon as I stepped out of my room.

The weekend started on Friday morning with an 8am-to-noon session with James Scott Bell who explained the principles of his best-selling book, Plot and Structure. I have the book, however James used humor and segments of movies to enhance the learning experience. A very enjoyable session.

Indianapolis from my window

Next on my schedule was a professional photo session at 1pm with Amber Zimmerman of The Clik Chick Photography. I thought Amber would have a booth set up where we’d have privacy. She didn’t. I watched her take the photos of another attendee while using the waterfall at the base of the elevators as a backdrop. Right in the open lobby where everyone could see all the way down from the 18th floor. Talk about nerve-wracking. When it was my turn, she took me outside and across the street to the park. A beautiful sunny day in the mid to high 70’s range, she had me sit and stand in a variety of poses using benches, brick walls and trees. Unfortunately, I was using my transition glasses which turned dark so I had to keep them off for most of the photos. Her US$40 for 6 professional shots was a bargain.

The conference officially started at 3pm with the Opening Worship, Keynote Address by cartoonist and author Tim Downs. And the surprise awarding of contracts to 3 happy attendees.

That night, I went out for an Italian supper with new and old friends. Within a block from the Hyatt Regency, we stepped off the sidewalk and into the kitchen where the cooks waved at us. A weird beginning, but the food and fellowship was excellent.

(L to R) Judy, Patti Lacy, Sara, Jen AlLee, Dina Sleiman, Lisa Richardson, Anita Mae Draper

We were back in time for the 8pm Late Night Chats with the publishing houses. As a reporter for the Afictionado, the ACFW online e-zine, my job was to report on Dave Long’s Spotlight on Bethany House. As Senior Acquisitions Editor, Dave was the perfect person to tell us what they are looking for and what is ‘hot’. Still topping the charts is Historical Romance followed by Amish (and other cloistered orders). Speculative is moving up fast. As a Christian conference, erotica wasn’t on the list.

Lisa Richardson with elevators behind
 Sat morning started early with a 7am breakfast followed by devotions and worship. As a member of a small 50-member church, hearing over 600 voices raised in song is always a heart-lifting experience. At this point, I’ll add that like all ACFW conferences, a prayer room is open 24/7 and sees much use before and after appointments and other important meetings.

Instead of heading off to the first workshop at 9am, though I headed to purgatory for my editor appointment. I’m not sure who came up with the name for the waiting area, but it was a half-walled raised dais area and the name seemed to fit. I was meeting Kim Moore of Harvest House who is the same editor I met last year over lunch while in Denver. She had requested Emma’s Outlaw at that time, but wanted 20,000 words added. If you remember, this spring, when I sent it out to my Inkwell Inspiration sisters, they basically tore it to shreds and I had to start over. So, my purpose in seeing Kim was to see if she still wanted it. And she did. As soon as I showed her the one-sheet, she smiled and said she remembered Dan, my hero. I told her of the changes and she approved. She gave me her card and told me how to email the completed manuscript when I’m done with it. Phew!

The rest of Saturday was spent in workshops:
  • Mastering Structure, Symbols, 3-D Characters using literary works and movies as examples
  • Selling Your Stuff with handouts for Pitches, Queries & Proposals (Agents Rachelle Gardner & Sandra Bishop)
  • Fact Into Fiction: Tips & Tools for Writing Historical Novels

Christina Berry and Anita Mae Draper
 Late Sat afternoon, Tim Downs gave his 2nd inspirational Keynote Address which was followed by 2 hours of free time. This is the time agents get together with all their clients for a dinner out. A few of us who are un-agented went out for supper across the skywalk to the mall.

Back in time for the 8pm Late Night Chat, I attended the workshop Tweaking Your Way to Publication put on by 2 multi-published Love Inspired authors, Lenora Worth and Marta Perry.

Sunday was a replay of Sat morning except I didn’t have an appointment and was able to attend the complete Part 2 of the 3-D Characters session. Although I’d barely slept the previous 3 nights, the teacher, Dr. Denis Henley kept me wide awake with his imitations of movie scenes, complete with voices and actions.

Award Winning Seekers:
Mary Connealy and Pam Hillerman
 Sunday afternoon was a jumble because I missed a workshop while volunteering on the registration desk. I could have squeezed in part of a workshop after that, but I wanted to get ready for my 3 pm agent meeting with Rachelle Gardner. So, I went up to my room for a breather, checked to ensure I had my one-sheet and opening chapters of Emma’s Outlaw, and then headed down to purgatory.

It was very important for me to see Rachelle because she also requested Emma's Outlaw last year, but this August, closed the door to queries. I didn't know where that left me. However, the meeting went well. I have to confess though, I consider myself blessed that she requested the manuscript—again. Last year on her blog, she said she requests only 3% of those people she meets. And another agent said he refuses 99% of what he sees at conferences. So, for Rachelle to give me another chance is why I’m hiding in my cave these days. I’ve given myself until the end of Oct to get Emma’s Outlaw emailed out to Kim and Rachelle. Because if I don’t get it out soon, I won’t have any credibility as a writer who gets the job done.

The appointment with Rachelle was followed by a Steve Laube workshop, Working with your Agent. I was thoroughly impressed with Steve’s humor, work ethics and working relationship with his clients, of which there were over half a dozen in the room. The two things I remember the most about his speech… you need constant (once weekly) communication with your agent… and second… the agents have a yahoo group and discuss wayward clients. (I’m remembering a Seinfeld show here.)

The Inkies: Jen AlLee, Dina Sleiman, Lisa Richardson, Anita Mae Draper

Janette Oke and Anita Mae Draper
The awards banquet Saturday night was the culmination of the conference. One huge thrill was when my roomie, Christina Berry, won a Carol award for her debut book. And the second big thrill was when I got to meet Janette Oke, of Calgary, AB who started the whole Christian fiction era with her tender prairie romance 1997 Bethany House book, Love Comes Softly.

And of course, each night I socialized with the Inkies and the Seekers and any one else I could corral.

Like I said, I’m working in my cave. I need to finish Emma’s Outlaw within the next few weeks and submit it. I can then use Nov for NaNoWriMo and work on a new project.
(L to R) Pam Hillerman, Ginny Aitken, Lynette Eason, Cheryl Wyatt,
 Linda Ford and Allie Pleiter

So, what about you? Have you sent anything out to an agent or editor lately? Or are you still working on a project someone requested months ago?


Vince said...

Hi Anita:

You are a natural born reporter! This is a great story. I now feel I know what it would be like to have gone to the conference. I went to one this year and that was my quota. But next year, I want to go to St. Louis because it is so close!

I have one question: were there any men in the workshops?


DebH said...

love the report on the conference. i am so excited that the two editors still want your MS. that has to be inspiring for you. i will be praying for you this month as you diligently finish Emma's Outlaw. I will pray for clarity of thought and high productivity for you.
thanks again for the report. it gives me a good idea about conferences.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I sounds like you had a wonderful and very productive time. Not only did you get professional pictures taken (at $40 US I would say that was a very reasonable cost. I hope you got a digital copy as well for websites, blogs etc.) you met with an editor and an agent. Terrific news about them still wanting to see Emma's Outlaw.

I honestly thought that most agents and editors who attended conferences asked to see almost everybody's manuscript as kind of a courtesy. It surprises me to hear the low numbers that you quote. So it's especially great that they still want to see your story. They must know talent when they see it.

Unfortunately I have not yet finished the story Donald Maass said he would look at last year at the Surrey conference. I really have to finish all my projects.

Best of luck Anita. Work hard!


September 30, 2010 1:15 PM

Anita Mae Draper said...

Men, Vince? Oh, yeah. :)

When the ACFW first started, Randy Ingermanson of the Snowflake method was the only male in attendance. Every year since then, the number has grown. I think there were about 50 or so this time around. Not only that, but for the first time since I've known about it, several men were nominated for the different Carol awards. Here are the male finalists and winners:

Debut Author:
- Kirk Outerbridge
- Dan Walsh (winner)

Short Historical:
- Dan Walsh (winner)

- Kirk Outerbridge (winner)
- Steve Rzasa
- Stuart Vaughn Stockton
- Fred Warren

- Harry Kraus

Young Adult:
- Booker T Mattison

About the workshops, there were men in every workshop I attended. Also, you'd think that they'd stick together at meal times, but more often than not, a guy would sit at our table and start asking what we wrote. Is it only male writers who like to talk? :D

St Louis? After knowing you online for years, it sure would be nice to get to meet you. Oh - and many attendees bring their spouses, as well. I believe we had an extra 50 or so spouses at the awards banquet.

Thanks for dropping in, Vince.

Anita Mae.

Karyn Good said...

Sounds like you had a fabulous time at the conference. I'm so happy that your pitches went well and you got the response you were hoping for.

Now get to work :P

Anita Mae Draper said...

Ah, you're welcome Deb. Actually, Vince said something similar about my report and I'm glad you both mentioned it because I was on the fence about how to write it. It crossed my mind that I shouldn't be including all the little boring details, but every time I went to delete them, something compelled me to leave them it. And you're right... it does give an idea of what to expect at these conferences if you've never been to one before.

Since we're on the subject, I'll give the differences between this Christian conference and the secular Romance Writers of America (RWA) one I attended in Orlando in July:

- RWA does not have the prayer room, nor do they have devotions and the worship sessions.

- you are required to choose your workshops when you register for ACFW but they aren't written in stone. Basically, it's to give the planning team an idea of the size of room that will be needed.
On the other hand...
- you don't pick your RWA workshops until the last minute. Several times, by the time I walked into the workshop after a bathroom break (with 100 other women), all the chairs were full and since I can't stand and take notes for an hour, I had to go to my next choice. If that was full, I'd either pick a random workshop or sit and visit. I missed many of my #1 picks because I didn't get there fast enough.

- The RWA gives away free books!!! Straight from the publisher and autographed while you meet the author.

- RWA also has a Goody Room with oodles of free promotional items.

And Deb - I haven't forgotten your free LI book that you won on my blog. Let me know if you're in a rush for it. Otherwise, I'll send it on my next trip to ND after Emma's Outlaw is out.

Thanks for visiting, Deb, and for the prayers. I surely do appreciate them.

Anita Mae.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Jana, I'm thinking that if Emma's Outlaw hadn't been Historical Romance, they might've thought twice about requesting it again. But, seeing as how that's the No 1 genre of Christian fiction right now, I'm on the right wagon at least. Although I do appreciate your vote of confidence about my writing skill. :)

About the professional photos, yes, Amber gives the choice of leaving them in a virtual mail box for you or sending them via snail mail. She wasn't crazy about sending them to Canada, and I told her I wouldn't be checking my US postal box for a couple months, so she is doing both and the ones on the web will be ready in a couple weeks.

About the agents and editors requests... many people are under that impression, especially the people who've always rec'd requests. At my first ACFW conf, an author even shot me down pretty quick when I mentioned the reason I was happy-dancing was because I'd rec'd 2 requests. Her response was that everyone did at the conference and it wasn't anything special. Well, that put a damper on my mood! And just because we're Christian and try to walk as a mirror to Jesus, doesn't mean we always succeed. Jealousy and strife occur everywhere humans congregate.

Actually, I was quite surprised that the editor took my one-sheet because with baggage weights for airfares, usually they don't want anything and just ask you to email them.

Thank you and yes, I'm working hard.

Anita Mae.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Haha Karyn, thanks. I will need a boot in the butt every once in awhile, too. Actually, one of my CP's even told me the night of the awards that she was giving me 2 days off then she'd start cracking the whip. :D

And I have you to look up to since you've already sent your submission out. Good for you!

Anita Mae.

Carolyne Aarsen said...

ACFW was a great conference. I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to meet a fellow Canadian author! Great report and good luck with the follow up!

Anita Mae Draper said...

You were there, Carolyne? Awh, I missed you.

Love your books! They're right up my western alley, and it's a pleasure to read a good emotional romance written right next door in Alberta. Gotta love the view from your window. :)

Hopefully, we'll meet at the next conference, if not sooner.

Thanks for dropping by,

Anita Mae.